TCI Research Agenda

Photo by Alina Paul-Bossuet (ICRISAT)

Throughout India and throughout the world, households and individuals face challenges to accessing the food they need and sharing it amongst all members of the household in an environment that allows them to efficiently metabolize and absorb nutrients. Household food access rests on the ability for a family unit to consume the quantity, quality, and diversity of food needed to achieve daily micronutrient, energy, and protein needs. TCI research focuses on four interlocking areas for analyzing nutritional outcomes in Indian rural areas and evaluating the agricultural pathways that could catalyze positive dietary change - especially for women and children (see conceptual framework figure below).

TCI Goals and Outcomes of Interest

Goal: Reduce rural childhood stunting and safeguard cognitive and physical development

Target population: Women and young girls (aged 15-45) who live in rural households and are dependent on agriculture for food and income.

Nutrition pathways:

  • Household food supply and income
  • Household access to micronutrients
  • Allocation of food to women and children within the household
  • Ensuring an environment where proper nutrient absorption and utilization can occur

Twin outcomes of interest: 

  • Dietary diversity
  • Nutrition uptake

Food access is premised on the ability to afford an array of nutrient-dense and freely available foods. Food affordability requires the expansion of household budgets to allow rural farmers to purchase the quantity, quality, and diversity of food needed. Household incomes are determined by the productivity of smallholder farmer operations, the opportunities available for non-farm income and other employment, and the seasonality of farm income and off-farm employment; all of which may wax and wane annually. In this area, TCI looks at research around agriculture-led growth strategies, including labor dynamics, new market opportunities and other economic and farm productivity aspects that can provide nutritional impact by expanding household incomes and household food supply. 

Gains in income and food affordability must be matched by actual food availability. As a result, TCI prioritizes research looking at the availability of micronutrients in rural areas. Micronutrient food availability is determined by a number of factors, including the spatial location of the household and their proximity to diverse food retailers, the seasonality of nutrient-dense food, the availability of food storage infrastructure and transportation (among other dynamics). TCI promotes research around agricultural diversification and food production diversification, the distribution of micronutrient foods spatially and temporally in a given region, and effectiveness of government micro-nutrient and food-based interventions and the national, state, and local-level. 

Third, TCI focuses in intra-familial food distribution and nutrition amongst individuals in a common household unit. Individuals often differ in terms of individual food intake and individual food needs, but more research is needed to understand the reasons why and the options for positive behavior change. Distribution within a household may favor men and older boys, allowing them to eat first and select the amount and quality they desire. Women, and young children are often left with the food that remains, suffering complications like anemia and other micronutrient deficiencies at higher rates. TCI advances research looking at positive behavior changes within the household, the impact of women's self-help groups on female empowerment and behavior change, and further evaluates how household characteristics might influence the distribution of nutrients within the home.

Fourth, TCI research considers the environment, including clean access and sanitation practices, that are central to full nutrient absorption and complete biological utilization. Drinking water supply and sanitation in India continues to be inadequate, and intestinal inflammation and infection due to water contaminated with worms, parasites, viruses and bacteria leads to partial or complete mal-absorption of essential nutrients to calories, in addition to life-threatening dehydration. TCI works to advance research and development of village-level purification plants, sanitation measures including the construction of toilets and other food safety processes.

A fifth area of research looks at how we can better utilize and synthesize the collection of agriculture, health and nutrition data. In India, multi-sectorial household surveys that include agriculture, health, and nutrition information are rare. TCI is looking to strengthen and support existing data collection attempts and pilot new ways of integrating these multi-faceted areas of human behavior into a single survey to be used in a variety of regions and contexts. 

Key research and intervention areas

To learn more about our priority research areas, visit the following links: